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Tesla Responds to Autopilot Fails on Model S

As Tesla aggressively moves to catch up in the race to bring autonomous cars to market, some recent reports from Model S owners seem to point to troubling problems with the company's Autopilot feature.

Autopilot is a combination of lane-keeping, active steering and automatic braking that maintains a vehicle within its lane without driver input. Tesla also offers a feature that enables the Model S and Model X to pass other vehicles on the road automatically, as well as park themselves.

Update: When contacted by Tom's Guide, Tesla emphasized that the new hardware and software is still in beta and that users should exercise vigilance. The company also wanted to remind owners that "Autosteer performance may vary during the initial phases of rollout on the new hardware platform." Both videos are of Model S vehicles using the new platform.

At one point, the Tesla owner narrowly avoids hitting an oncoming car.

However, some Tesla owners have recently reported some disquieting results using Autopilot. Two of the more dramatic video postings show Tesla owners struggling to keep the system from hitting curbs, turning onto a side street, and colliding with other vehicles.

One video demonstrates how Autopilot has trouble dealing with curves on a two-lane road, even though the double yellow lines seem to be clearly visible. At one point, the Tesla owner narrowly avoids hitting an oncoming car.

A second video, taken at night, is on a road that uses raised cat's eyes for lane markings. Other automakers have indicated such lane markings are particularly difficult to detect and present special challenges for lane keeping programs. (Tom's Guide reached out to Tesla for comment and will update this article when we receive a response.)

It should be noted that Tesla and other car companies with similar systems, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo, warn drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times. However, as these lane-keeping systems with active steering and adaptive cruise control become more widespread, drivers have been increasingly tempted to let their cars do the driving, particularly on highways, for as long as the vehicles will allow.

Companies such as Ford and Audi have laid out aggressive plans to bring fully autonomous vehicles to the road. Audi is hoping to have such cars by 2020 while Ford is planning on self-driving vehicles, possibly for ride sharing, by 2021. Whether the public will accept them may depend on how these early experiments in semi-autonomous driving proceed.

The first known fatality related to such semi-autonomous driving occurred last May when Tesla S owner Joshua Brown struck a tractor trailer while in Autopilot mode. A subsequent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation cleared Tesla when it found no defects in the system that caused the accident.

Many consumers remain skeptical of self-driving vehicles. A recent survey from Klashwerks, a Canadian connected car company, found that nearly 25 percent of respondents said they would never ride in an autonomous car. Almost 18 percent said they were terrified by self-driving cars.

John R. Quain
John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and the CBS News television program.